The Lyons Township High School boys basketball team is well aware how difficult life in the West Suburban Conference Silver Division can be. After reeling off four straight wins to claim their own Thanksgiving tournament title, the Lions are off to an 0-2 start in conference.
LTHS lost to visiting Oak Park and River Forest 66-53 Friday in La Grange.
Fueled by a strong offensive showing from senior forward Connor Niego, the Lions led the Huskies 18-13 early in the second quarter.
However, OPRF quickly gained the momentum en route to a relatively comfortable victory. In their conference opener, the Lions lost to Downers Grove North 74-67 on Dec. 2.
“In our league, there are no easy games. We know we will really have to grind,” Niego said. “That’s a really good Oak Park team. I think we stuck with them and battled.
“The overall movement of the ball offensively and playing good defense as a complement were the keys to our good start. We played three quarters of good fundamental basketball.”
While the Lions (4-3, 0-2 West Suburban Silver) fought hard, they could never really put a substantial dent in the Huskies’ double-digit lead. LTHS committed 20 turnovers and made just 8 of 21 free throws.
Sophomore guard Tyrese Shines drained a 3-pointer from the top of the key with just over a minute left to play in the game to pull LTHS within 12 points; however, the Huskies answered right back with a layup from Isaiah Fuller off an assist from Dashon Enoch to give OPRF a 65-51 lead.
Senior forward Noah Niego scored the Lions’ final basket with 52.7 seconds left. Moments later, Fuller made a free throw to seal the 66-53 victory for OPRF.
Connor Niego scored a game-high 22 points with seven rebounds. Shines (13 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists) and Noah Niego (7 points) also contributed.
Despite the loss at home, LTHS coach Tom Sloan praised his players’ effort.
“We could have easily folded but we didn’t,” Sloan said. “We need to fix a few things like free throw shooting, blocking out on the defensive end, getting back on defense and taking care of the basketball. Those are four huge areas we can and should be better at. The positive aspect is that these parts of the game are very fixable, and I know our guys will improve.”
Forward Jared Scott and Fuller scored 18 points apiece for OPRF. Scott, who is having a superb senior campaign, also pulled down 12 rebounds and made went 4-for-4 from the free throw line. Senior forward Cameron Gross finished with nine points and Enoch chipped in six.
“We have had the most difficult early schedule we’ve had in years and are one possession away from being 8-0,” OPRF coach Matt Maloney said. “We still have a long ways to go to compete with the top teams in our conference, Pontiac and our sectional which is always the toughest in the state.”
The team’s only loss (Fenwick beat OPRF 63-57 in overtime) even served a valuable purpose.
“We use the loss to Fenwick as a fuel to our fire,” Gross said. “We’re going to play every game like it’s our last. Our senior leadership with Jared Scott and myself, along with the younger guys stepping up, have been our strong points this season.
“We just have to learn from our mistakes, move on to each game and keep getting better every day.”
LTHS welcomes conference rival Hinsdale Central in the annual “Pack the Place” game Friday, Dec. 16 at 7:30 p.m. The Lions host Argo the following night, Saturday, Dec. 17 at 5 p.m. in a non-conference matchup.
Bulldogs split games over weekend
Jalen Brooks and Ryan Cicenas scored 16 points apiece, lifting the Riverside-Brookfield High School boys basketball team to a 53-43 win against Illiana Christian in Metro Suburban Conference action Friday. Senior guard Jalen Clanton also led RBHS with 11 points, six rebounds, six assists and five steals. Making his first career start, AJ Meindl finished with eight rebounds.
On Sunday, the Bulldogs fell 70-44 to Hillcrest at the Derrick Rose Shootout. RBHS struggled against Hillcrest’s athleticism and size with a 15-for-52 (28%) shooting performance. Clanton scored a team-high 12 points for RBHS (4-3, 1-1 Metro Suburban).
The Bulldogs face host Aurora Central Catholic on Friday, Dec. 16 in a conference matchup. Tip-off is 7:30 p.m.